Ahobilam – The Nava Narasimha Kshetra

06.00 hrs – I woke up when my alarm buzzed while my brother and Bilal were still sleeping. I started to get ready and in the meanwhile, they too got up and while Bilal was busy in checking how to reach Ahobilam and all, my brother went for a jog as his physical test for the Police selection was around the corner! We got ready quickly and left for Proddatur’s old Bus station from where we should get a bus to Allagadda and before doing that my brother insisted us to have our breakfast and we did so. We got into the bus and the distance to be covered is around 60 kms. We reached Allagadda around 10.30 hrs. From there, we took another bus which would be leaving to Ahobilam, located in Kurnool district and only then did we come to know that there are two places called the Diguva Ahobilam (Lower Ahobilam) and Eguva Ahobilam (Upper Ahobilam).

The bus-conductor gave us tickets till Upper Ahobilam. It was around 11.20 hrs we were at the Lower Ahobilam. Ahobilam is the place where there are nine different self-manifest (swayambu) deities of Lord Narasimha amidst the Nallamala hills. The sacred ranges of Nallamala hills are believed to be personified Adisesha whose head is Tirumala, middle portion Ahobilam and tail portion is Srisailam.

The nine manifestations are:

  1. Jwaala Narasimha
  2. Ahobila Narasimha
  3. Malola Narasimha
  4. Kroda Narasimha
  5. Karanja Narasimha
  6. Bhargava Narasimha
  7. Yogananda Narasimha
  8. Kshatravata Narasimha
  9. Paavana Narasimha

Aho-bilam literally means “wonderful cave” referring to the caves in which some of the nine self-manifest deities reside. The Puranas indicate that the Devas (Gods) saw the manifestation of Lord Vishnu as half-lion and half-man and shouted as Ahobala (great strength) as well as Ahobila (a huge cave where the current sanctum is present). It is the place where Lord Vishnu appeared from the Stone Pillar or Ugra Stambha to slay Hiranyakashipu and hence this place is called Ahobilam. According to another Purana, Garuda performed intense penance to have vision of Lord Vishnu and realized him here. And hence these hills are also known as Garudadri.

Our bus stopped just in front of the temple complex of Shri Lakshmi Narasimha Swami at Lower Ahobilam. The temple complex was serene and if we have enough time we would be visiting the temple on our way back. The bus soon came to life again and started ascending the hill. The snake-like road is carved in middle of the hills and the lush green trees all along the way makes the journey a pleasant one. Within no time, our bus reached Upper Ahobilam and we got down there. We searched for a cloak room to keep our luggage, but couldn’t find one. But there are few accommodations where the pilgrims can stay and we requested the manager over there to allow us to keep our luggage there.  Once freed from the luggage, we walked to find a route-map and there it was, giving each and every detail. In the meanwhile a guide approached us, but he asked us way too much and we dropped the plan of hiring a guide!

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We started climbing up the hill. Initially there were a few concrete steps and it took us around 10 minutes to climb those. We reached the first temple situated in the Upper Ahobilam. This is the Ahobila Narasimha swami temple where the lord appears in his fierce aspect, called Ugra Narasimha. The temple is the main temple and earliest of all the nine temples in Ahobilam. The architecture is pretty much like the other South Indian temples but as told earlier this was a cave temple and the deity here is a Swayambu (self-manifestation). Just infront of this temple complex there is a mandapa, from where one can get the a nice panoramic view of the hills surrounding this temple. While Bilal stayed back, I went inside and took the blessings of the Lord!

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Belum Caves – A Stone Age Heritage

11.12.2016:

Wrapped up our shopping at Dharmavaram and left for the bus station. The day is going to be long! We had our lunch around 13.00 hrs in a small restaurant near the bus station and got into the Tadipatri bus. Our destination is the famous “Belum Caves”, located in the Kurnool district. The district of Kurnool is located in the western central part of Andhra Pradesh and its capital is the town of Kurnool. This is the perfect town for people, who enjoy exploring ancient architecture and historical monuments. Kurnool has plenty of them.

The caves are about 120 kms from Dharmavaram and when we asked the locals how to reach these, they asked us to travel to Tadipatri and from there we would get number of buses going to Belum Caves. We reached Tadipatri and when inquired at the bus station they asked us to get into a bus that goes to Kovelakuntla. After a while, we got into another bus which dropped us at Kovelakuntla. The twist is that everyone told us that time to visit these caves would end at 17.00 hrs and it was only around 15.50 hrs, we reached Kovelakuntla and the caves are another 15 kms from there. After all the auto-rickshaw drivers denied us a ride, we could do nothing but wait for a bus which can drop us there.

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Finally at 16.15 hrs we got into a bus going to Banaganapalle and is full of school children. When we asked the kids about the visiting hours of the caves, the response was positive. They told us that they would allow visitors upto 18.00 hrs and this filled us with a new energy. The bus took 15 minutes to drop us at the entrance of the caves. We bid a bye to the children and started walking towards the ticket counter, which is again another 10 minutes walk from the entrance. The first things that welcomed us are a huge Buddha statue and a hill in it’s background on which the name Belum Caves is written.

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The Buddha here is a super attraction here. The huge idol nestled in the nature looks serene and beautiful. Though I immediately wanted to go and click some photographs of it, caves are the first thing and I don’t wanted to be turned down simply saying that I was late for the entry! So, we walked fast towards the counter and bought two tickets and started walking towards the entrance of the caves. These are underground caves and we left our luggage with the security there and climbed down the concrete staircase into the cavity which is about 30 feet below the ground level. My heart skipped a beat when I entered the caves! They are magnificent!

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Nestled in the hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh in the midst of a rocky terrain abounds in limestone formations belonging to the Kurnool series of the Cuddapah system, which comprises shales, slates, limestones, sandstones, and quartzites, a prehistoric site, called Belum caves in Kolimigundla Mandal (Kolimigundla village) of Kurnool district, is uniquely preserved. These rock shelters tell us the stories of Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) era and exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India. Belum Caves derives its name from the Sanskrit word Bilum (meaning ‘cave’). These caves have long passages, fresh water galleries, siphons and spacious chambers. These caves have been formed naturally due to constant flow of underground water.

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The Belum Caves were originally discovered in 1884 by a European surveyor Robert Bruce Foote. Nearly after a century, a team of German speleologists headed by H Daniel Gebauer conducted a detailed exploration of the caves. It is said that ‘Belum Caves, running a length of 3229 mts, is the second largest cave in Indian subcontinent and the longest caves in plains of Indian Subcontinent, known for its stalactite and stalagmite formations’. As the remnants of vessels discovered in the caves were scientifically dated to 4500 BC, the Belum caves are stated to be thousands of years old.

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The locals named the entrance of the caves as ‘Simhadwaram’ as the natural arch-like formation where the stalactites look like the head of a lion. We were spell-bounded at the sight of these caves. Thanks to the Government of Andhra Pradesh laying down the pathways, providing illumination and oxygen shafts. The well-planned illumination rids the caves of its claustrophobic feel and creates a brightness that enhances their grandeur. As we started walking deep into the caves, the passages became narrow and led us into a narrow passage which led us into a large chamber known as the ‘kotilingalu’, so called because it has thousands of stalagmites and stalactites that look like lingas.

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One should be careful while passing through some of the real tight passages as there are chances of your head to one of those stalactites and they should also ease themselves as the passages are very narrow. As visitors get lower, the stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations awe them to no end. These caves are famous for their stalactites that hang from the ceiling of the cave like icicles and the stalagmites are found in myriad formations on the cave floors. But, it was too hot inside the caves and at times, we used to feel as if we were deprived of air! In the meanwhile, a guide came along with a group of members and started leading them into another chamber, and we followed them silently! 🙂 🙂

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It is the deepest point of the cave system and is a descending passage to Patalaganga. At Pathalaganga, there is a small perennial stream flowing from the southeast to northwest, disappearing and believed to be heading towards a well at the Belum village, located 2 km away from the caves. We saw the water there, and it is said that the level of the water remains constant. There is also a linga just above the rock adjacent to the Pathalaganga. After reaching almost the end of the caves, we started walking back where we came across the unique feature of Belum Caves!

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The unique feature is the metallic sounds that its stalactites make when tapped on. Saptasvarala Guha (musical chamber) has this feature, as the metallic sounds the stalactites make when hit with a wooden stick or one’s knuckles.  That’s thrilling and one should experience it by themselves. Once out, we sat there for quite sometime to relish the fresh breeze blowing there and walked towards the giant Buddha statue to click some photographs before we leave!